Kenyan Women Unite Their Voices to Prevent Extremism
NAIROBI - The U.S. Institute of Peace is training and working with Kenyan women as they build trust within their communities to prevent violent extremism. The program comes as Kenya struggles to halt the recruitment efforts of Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
The organization Sisters Without Borders was formed in 2014. One of its missions is to bridge the mistrust between Kenyan security agencies and families of terrorism suspects.
The organization includes at least 20 women’s groups from Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa, all of which have seen deadly terrorist attacks by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
Sureya Hirsi, a member of the sisters' group from Mombasa, attended the conference in Nairobi. She says it is time for women to take an active role in the fight against terrorism.
"The reason I joined this sisters group, it’s because I have been affected, I have family members, people whom I know, I know youths who have been recruited, and this is happening because as a community we don't speak up about these issues. As a woman who is lucky and also educated, I have decided to be on the frontline to help my community so that we can speak about these issues that affect our community."
Nicoletta Barbera, a program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says women can play a key role in preventing young people from going down the terrorist path.
"The women that we work with, the sisters without borders are integrated within their communities, they live, work, and serve. They are very aware of the threats that are in their homes, in their markets, in their communities. We enable them to identify those potential individuals who are prone in engaging in violent extremism and give them the skills to try to mitigate them at the very beginning when they see those initial signs of radicalization," Barbera said.
Kenya National Counterterrorism Center Director Martin Kimani says that kind of ground-level activism is exactly what the country needs.
"We in the security services are hunting and looking for recruiters to put them behind bars where they belong. But radicalization continues to be a problem. That problem is going to need for the county level actions to get radicalization, to where, for example, Kenya got HIV/AIDS where everybody could speak about it, everybody knows what it is and everybody know their role in how to stop it and protect it each other from getting into that kind of life," Kimani said.
Kenya has been prime recruiting territory for al-Shabab since 2011, when the government sent troops into Somalia to fight militants.
Al-Shabab has been responsible for several major terrorist attacks, the worst coming in 2015, when al-Shabab fighters stormed Garissa University College, killing nearly 150 people.